Sound on Disc

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Sound-On-Disc: From Inception ‘til Death
From the Kinetophone to the Vitaphone, the sound-on-disc format dominated the pioneering stage of sound in movies. For the first time ever, people were able to hear sound synchronized with the images on the screen, and the revolution had begun-the talkies were here to stay. It was the sound-on-disc format that helped create many of Hollywood’s “talkie” classics, including The Jazz Singer and The Singing Fool. However, another format, sound-on-film, would soon take reign of the talking motion picture movement, as the audience and the exhibitors started to become more demanding as technology was slowly improving. Sound-on-disc was simply beleaguered with too many technical and economic problems to continue to stay relevant. Thus, the competing sound-on-film format eventually became widely-accepted in the motion picture industry and is used even to this day.
There were many different technologies in the beginning of the 20th Century that were able to incorporate sound with film, including the Chronophone and the Cameraphone. However, the most influential film-phonograph combination in terms of the impact on the developments in the 1920s was Thomas Edison’s Kinetophone, which featured an automatic synchronizing system (Gomery, 27). Numerous identical gears linked the phonograph and projector to cause both machines, if manually operated, to move at the same rate. He also created an adjustment dial to correct synchronization problems. The Kinetophone was indeed advanced for its time.
On February 19, 1913, the Kinetophone premiered at the Colonial, a vaudeville theatre on Broadway. The film opened with a lecturer who proceeded to explain the system. He also smashed a plate, played the violin and piano, and had a dog bark-all of which demonstrated the power of Edison’s technology (28). A minstrel act followed, and the film eventually ended with the chorus of the “Star Spangled Banner.” It was a huge hit, and the audience gave the film a 15 minute standing ovation.
Despite it’s successful opening night, the promise of the Kinetophone never materialized. During the second week of its New York Presentation, the audience booed the Kinetophone, as the synchronization was off by as much as 10 to 12 seconds due to an inexperienced projectionist. There were also other problems that plagued it. The phonograph emitted a “harsh, metallic sound”, and its volume was never sufficient to fill a large vaudeville theatre (29). Eventually, by 1915, all operations of Edison’s Kinetophone had ceased. Edison’s failure marked the end of the pioneering phase of the phonograph- based sound pictures.

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